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Market for backyard greenhouse takes root

A pilot finds that an earthy invention pays off. He installs the structures and will soon sell kits.

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 20, 2002

Dale Pope was trying to protect his tomatoes and herbs from the winter weather when he dropped the seeds for a new business venture.

Pope, a corporate pilot for Eckerd, threw some plastic over the plants, a move that didn't sit well with his wife, Ellen.

"My wife didn't want an eyesore in the back yard," he says.

So he constructed a Quonset hut-type frame out of PVC pipes and draped it with plastic, later upgrading to polycarbonate panels typically used in commercial greenhouses.

"My wife comes out and goes, 'I didn't know you could do that. That looks pretty good,' " he says.

Friends saw the structure and wanted their own. One told Pope he might be able to make a little bit of money.

So Pope launched Solar Garden Homes, a company that sells several greenhouses a month to Florida homeowners. He still flies planes for Eckerd, but his business continues to grow. He's about to begin sales of do-it-yourself kits that he'll ship to buyers in North Carolina and Georgia.

Pope's greenhouses come in two sizes: 6 by 10 feet and 8 by 12 feet.

"The reason we do that is we want to stay within the building codes. This is a temporary structure. If it's over 100 square feet, you start having to deal with building codes. But below 100 square feet you don't need permits and things like that."

Because they have no foundation, they can easily be moved around a yard or to another home altogether.

"It's more like a big doghouse," Pope says.

An electric or propane heater maintains the proper temperature inside the greenhouse. Pope can also incorporate misting and drip irrigation systems, benches, shelves and screened windows for ventilation.

Pope, of Clearwater, can install the greenhouses within two weeks of receiving an order. They are ideal for propagating plants or nursing tomatoes, peppers and other herbs and vegetables from seeds before putting the 6- or 8-inch plants in the ground.

"You can get started months earlier, when it's still cold," Pope says.

Orchid growers are Pope's biggest customers, he says, because the plants can't withstand temperatures below 50 degrees.

Laura and Donald Wadsworth have been growing orchids for about three years. In the summer, their plants hang on hooks and from tree limbs in a north Tampa back yard. When the orchids bloom, Mrs. Wadsworth brings them in the house. By November, though, the plants need protection from the cold. The Wadsworths called on Pope to install a Solar Garden Home for them last fall.

"We didn't want to drag all the plants in the garage again," Mrs. Wadsworth says.

Prices on Solar Garden Home greenhouses range from $3,600 for the 6-by-10-foot structure to $4,300 for the 8-by-12-foot one. They're guaranteed for 10 years.

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